Mara Hitner – “Becoming involved in 3D printing is all about having an access point that aligns with your particular interest”

Mara Hitner, or @3DPGirl for her twitter followers, couldn’t have chosen a better Twitter handle. She wasn’t meant for 3D Printing in the first place though, as she started her career as a Rock singer! Her passion for 3D Printing, as well as her persistence, got her into the industry in 2015, as she joined MatterHackers.

Mara, could you let us know about your background and what brought you into 3D printing in the first place?

I was in advertising sales for 16 years and hated it, but had no idea what else I’d want to do. I saw 3D printing in an episode of “Elementary” and it got me curious enough to do a little research. I was so inspired by what people were doing with 3D printing – prototypes and bio-printing and just making things at home. I never thought about people making things at all!  As a salesperson, all I knew to do if I wanted to get to know players in a brand new field was to find a tradeshow and get to know everyone on the expo floor. So I spent $1500 of my own money to fly to Seattle for 3D Printer World Expo 2014, got myself a room in the host hotel, and proceeded to spend three days introducing myself to everyone and collecting business cards. I followed up with everyone I met for months, and purchased a Printrbot Simple Metal from MatterHackers (hoping that would make them notice me!) Six months later I got caught in massive layoffs at my advertising job, and the next day I was offered the position of Director of Business Development at MatterHackers. It was all meant to be.

What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?

As I was researching 3D printing, I found a beginner class at Deezmaker in LA. I dragged my sister with me, and we made keychains in Tinkercad and had them printed on a Bukito 3D printer. Once I saw the printer working I was hooked.  

Could you explain furthermore what MatterHackers is and the services that you are providing?

MatterHackers exists to make 3D printing easier and more accessible to everyone. Based in Southern California, MatterHackers is the largest 3D printing retailer, and we provide unbiased guidance to help individuals, schools, and business get started (or stay current) with desktop 3D printing. We carry 50+ 3D printer models and 500+ materials at http://www.MatterHackers.com, and in our Orange County showroom. We also offer lifetime phone and email support for every printer we sell, and we are the creators of MatterControl 3D printer software.

We covered one of your initiatives a few months ago (#WithinReach3DP Challenge). Could you give us some updates on the challenge?

Within Reach was definitely a career and – life – highlight for me. The opportunity to work with my best girlfriend Brandy, and to use her story to inspire others to create assistive devices that could be 3D printed for people without the full use of their hands, was something I never could have predicted. We received over 200 models from young designers under 18 as well as adults, and they are all available to download for free at www.matterhackers.com/withinreach. My hope is that schools, libraries, makerspaces, and anyone else with a 3D printer who is looking to use it for the good of their community will grab these designs and print them for people in need. It was so successful that we launched a SECOND challenge back in March called Envision The Future.  165 designers submitted original models to help in education of the blind and visually impaired.  It’s another great way for anyone with a 3D printer to contribute to their local community. 

Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?

Our MatterHackers staff is 3D printing projects pretty much 24/7 with different machines and materials, and one thing we have seen be very successful is knowledge-sharing with the 3D printing community.  We do that through free online videos and articles, Meetups at our offices, teaming up with talented YouTube creators, and setting up booths at tradeshows across the country. We’ve got a lot planned for 2017, so joining our newsletter at www.matterhackers.com or following us on your favorite social media will keep you informed.

Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company to share with us?

SO many stories!!! One particular, unexpected highlight that comes to mind actually inspired the Envision The Future design challenge. I was asked to help run a 3D printer at the CSUN Disabilities Conference in San Diego to demonstrate how 3D printing could be used to make low-cost tactile models for the visually impaired. What I didn’t realize was that a good percentage of the attendees browsing the expo hall were blind. I learned to “show” these amazing, unstoppable people how a 3D printer worked by guiding their hands (carefully!) over my Printrbot Simple as it was printing. The reactions were astounding, as they had heard about the technology, but had never had the opportunity to “see” it, and they were completely blown away. Well, one of those people…was Stevie Wonder.  I am a musician myself, so to have the privilege of guiding THOSE hands over a 3D printer and to share my passion for this technology with him was incredible. We had an awesome discussion about the need for accessible design software so that people like him could have an outlet for the ideas they want to make. I’ll never get over that conversation.  And he gives great hugs!

As a woman in Tech, what was/ is your biggest challenge?

Coming up with a good, sound-byte worthy yet historically impactful answer to this question! Honestly, I think I’ve had it pretty easy in that regard compared to stories I have heard from other women. I can only hope to pay it forward in any way that I can by treating everyone with the respect they deserve based on their ideas and capabilities rather than what they look like or their life history

What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?

I just love the work that e-NABLE is doing. Jen Owen and the founders of this volunteer social movement to 3D print assistive devices for those in need really set the standard for the democratization of medicine, and for how educators can use their 3D printers to teach the next generation to get out of that “me” thinking and use technology to do something good for others. I see what they are doing with prosthetics as just the beginning of what’s possible with this kind of social consciousness and blueprint for structure.  

What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:

  • As a business person?

Opportunities are endless. 3D printing is a technology which can impact so many other thriving industries. All we need to do is keep telling them about it and sharing success stories from manufacturing, aerospace, education, architecture, libraries, packaging…you name it. 3D printing can make it faster and easier to innovate.  

  • As a woman?

I don’t know that I see the 3D printing industry differently than a man would, but as a creative person who sees opportunities in emotional response as well as numbers, I am inspired every day by the imaginative use cases for 3D printing coming from our educators and from our young people. One look at the submissions from our under 18 designers in the Within Reach and Envision The Future challenges will assure anyone that the future is in good hands (no pun intended.)  

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?

The 3D printing industry today is alive and well and adjusting to its user base, which continues to shift from consumers to educators to manufacturing and back again. Like our customers from all sectors, I would like to see 3D printers and software continue to become easier to use, more affordable, and to have the 3D design and slicing software become accessible for all ages and abilities. 

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

I think becoming involved in 3D printing is all about having an access point that aligns with your particular interest, regardless of gender. For some, it’s the ability to customize items from Thingiverse for gifts, or designing their own jewelry, or being able to prototype their inventions. For others, it might be making cookie cutters or other accessories for their hobbies. Ultimately having 3D printers become a standardized part of elementary schools to accompany curriculum will be a big help in introducing creative technology to boys and girls before gender bias sets in.  


Thank you for reading and for sharing! 

We invite you to join Women in 3D Printing on LinkedIn and to like our Facebook page for further discussion.

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